May 5, 2023
The Hybrid Church Task Force is a group gathered to help Rev. Miranda and the Vestry reflect on how to make sure we tend to the needs and hopes of our “digital members,” including those who are homebound (temporarily or for the long term) and those who live at a distance, and to think together about how to develop and deepen a sense of ourselves as one church community even though people worship in different modalities.
The Task Force includes people who worship primarily or exclusively on Zoom and some who do both in-person and Zoom worship.
We have met three times so far, focusing on worship and fellowship, and expect to continue to topics like welcome and evangelism, formation, outreach, and more.
We encourage both Zoom and in-person worshippers to read this report, ponder, and share any thoughts, reactions or ideas!
THINGS WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR…
The Church is the body of Christ and there are many ways to embody that even when we are not together in the same space in our bodies.
There’s a sense of spiritual mystery – or at least, of the capacity for spiritual mystery – in worship, that can be harder to incarnate on Zoom. We would like to experiment further with creating a little silence now and then, and with inviting people into embodiment during Zoom worship, such as by lighting a candle, crossing themselves, creating a prayer space, etc. Zoom folks like these ideas but feel that more cues/reminders and instruction would be helpful.
In terms of connectedness and relationship, Zoom worship can have greater intimacy than in-person worship. You can see people’s faces and names, and hear or read their prayer requests and blessings. However, Zoom is not very conducive to the kind of casual before- or after-chats where you get to know somebody better.
We’ve talked a lot about how to try offering a little “coffee hour” time before or after Zoom worship. There are time constraints, because Rev. Miranda has to go lead 10AM worship, but there are ways around that. The real question is how to have Zoom fellowship be warm and satisfying, and that’s not as simple as it seems. Because it’s the nature of Zoom for only one voice to be heard at a time, it’s easy for someone to dominate the conversation, even unintentionally, or for those who know each other to chit chat about mutual interests and friends and forget that there are newer members and even visitors present. (To be fair, the same thing can happen in person!) A Zoom fellowship time would need some structure and facilitation, and perhaps the use of Zoom “breakout rooms” so that smaller groups can talk amongst themselves. (People would also need to be free to opt out, of course!) Breakout rooms could be “themed” – for example, people who want to talk about a piece of art we looked at; people who want to discuss the day’s Scriptures; people who just want general chat; people to respond to a friendly get-to-know-each-other question; and so on. This would take a little structure and planning, and some facilitators willing to help make it happen, but it’s not difficult and we could absolutely give it a try.
In terms of music in Zoom worship, some people enjoy singing along with the prepared hymn recordings and some prefer to just listen. Musical offerings prepared by members of the congregation (thanks, Behrens family and Father Tom McAlpine!) are especially welcome and appreciated. Some people miss the feeling of singing along with many other voices, and we wonder if it may be possible to record some group singing and share that on Zoom in future. Using recorded music from elsewhere would be possible but feels like a last resort; overall, the group feels that it matters to know the people making the music.
Sharing art works well on Zoom, and some Zoom folks would love to go even deeper with that, perhaps having information about a focal piece of art sent out with the Enews so they can look at it ahead of time.
In 2020 and into 2021, our Zoom congregation included many children. Now, most of our kids attend in person, except occasionally for reasons of illness, travel, etc. The Zoom congregation understands, but misses them. We will look for ways the kids of St. Dunstan’s can occasionally share something with the Zoom congregation, and perhaps vice versa, to develop a deeper sense of shared community.
We talked about a paradox: Many people who worship on Zoom miss receiving the Eucharist, but at the same time, very few have asked for Rev. Miranda or Eucharistic visitors to bring Communion, or responded affirmatively to surveys asking if that is a need. We think there are several aspects to this situation: people may feel uncomfortable having someone come to their home; people may feel like home Eucharist doesn’t feel the same as church Eucharist; people may feel that Rev. Miranda is too busy (and may be hesitant about a non-clergy Eucharistic visitor); people may feel that they “should” just get back to in-person church, even if that’s difficult for them. We agreed that we’d like to recruit some Pastoral Visitors and do another trial run of offering to have people take Communion out to the congregation, upon request, and see how it is received. We realize that we may have to do a little teaching about the validity of having a layperson share Communion in the context of a pastoral visit, and some relationship-building, to have this be well received.
We can’t send Eucharistic visitors to our members who live at a distance. We can make sure to be supportive if they need help connecting with a local faith community for Eucharist or other care.
Regarding “hybrid” worship (worship where people attend both on Zoom and in person): Members of our group have found, through experiences with St. Dunstan’s and other churches and groups, that it’s often hard to feel fully included in “hybrid” gatherings, where people are present both in person and on Zoom (though it can work better with smaller groups that know each other well). We will continue to work on both the technological and human aspects of doing hybrid worship and gatherings well, but the most likely use case for the foreseeable future will be things like funerals or the Annual Meeting where we really need to bring people together because logistics preclude doing both Zoom and in-person versions of the same event.
Replacing fully-Zoom worship with hybrid worship would be a substantial loss for the Zoom congregation and is not an attractive prospect. By a similar token, there is little interest in “live-streaming” or broadcasting our in-person worship online for people to watch at a distance. This doesn’t seem to be an option our community is asking for or needs.
We’ve found that “hybrid” formation sessions and group meetings work somewhat better than hybrid worship, but we still need to improve our practices here, like consistently using our “Meeting Owl” device that allows those on Zoom to see and hear everyone who’s present in the room, and – when possible – appointing someone to watch the Zoom group to make sure Zoom participants have a chance to speak and participate. We are optimistic that we can keep developing these practices and habits, and get better!
What ideas, thoughts, or hopes do you have, as you read through this?
(If you’re interested in joining future Hybrid Church Task Force meetings, let Rev. Miranda know!)